Unlike most teams on Media Day, Missouri Western's player representatives were two juniors, rather than seniors.

"Senior class will be fairly small," Missouri Western head coach Jerry Partridge said. "The junior class is probably one of the best classes we've had at Missouri Western. I think there's about three classes I'd deem super classes in my time here and this class could be the fourth one. They've got to get it done, though, but they have the ability to do it."

Defensive back Michael Jordan and defensive lineman Janis Matulis represented Missouri Western.

"Mike started as a true freshman for us in our conference championship year," Partridge said. "Was the freshman of the year in the league. Was a first team all-league performer. One of the best corners that we've had at Missouri Western, which says a lot, because we've had a lot of great corners.

"Janis is a young man that started last year for the first time after we lost that great senior class. Has continued to get better and better. He's not playing football really long. He came from Latvia to Wichita to play basketball. He started getting thick and they made him play football. Very intelligent football player, very physical and they're two pieces of our defense that are going to make us a very good defensive football team."

Jordan made 49 tackles and intercepted three passes, while Matulis recorded 30 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.

The Griffons graduated quarterback Travis Partridge but do return running backs Raphael Spencer (1,312 yards and 12 touchdowns on 198 carries) and Dominic Thomas (198 yards, two TDs).

"The first piece of that is the o-line," Coach Partridge said. "Last year, they were very inexperienced. We had the experienced quarterback. We weren't very experienced upfront and I think it showed sometime but that group continued to grow throughout the year from Game 1 to Game 11. It's the first time in 9-10 years that we didn't get to play a 12th game. I think everybody's upset about that and ready to do something different.

"Raphael's a great back. He led the league in rushing (119.3 yards per game) last year. Dynamic football player. Dom Thomas is an excellent backup too. There's other kids, too. There's also experience at receiving corp, too. That group was very inexperienced last year going in. . . . So, having probably 10 players around you that have played a lot of ball will help a quarterback adjust more quickly."

Travis Partridge finished his career with 21 passing and 10 rushing touchdowns and backup quarterbacks Nate Wilson and Weston McPhee combined for only eight attempts last season.

Yes, Missouri Western finished 8-3 last season and it was the first time since 2004 that the Griffons missed the playoffs or did not play in the Mineral Water Bowl. Western made the playoffs in 2006 and 2010-12 and played in the Mineral Water Bowl in 2005 and 2007-09.

"Last year, we went 8-3 and it felt like 3-8," Partridge said. "We were 7-0 and fourth in the county. We lost three of our last four games to really good football teams (Pitt State, Emporia State, Northwest Missouri). I don't know if you'll see a whole lot of difference in who we are and what we do. I mean, Missouri Western always runs the ball really, really well and always stops the run very well. I think you'll see us throw it just as much as we did with Travis."

Partridge said that he feels more comfortable being picked fifth rather than last year's high expectations coming off a MIAA championship season.

"We're back where I want to be," Partridge said. "I like being fifth preseason. I like it. It makes me comfortable. I didn't know how to feel being second or tied for first last year."

High expectations come from success, as well as the NFL-caliber talent brought into St. Joseph like St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, Chicago Bears defensive end David Bass, Green Bay Packers running back Michael Hill and Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Reggie Jordan.

Travis Partridge plays for the B.C. Lions of the CFL and he scored his first professional touchdown in a 41-5 win over Montreal, a 1-yard run.

 

2014 SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 — vs. Central Missouri

Sept. 13 — at Central Oklahoma

Sept. 20 — vs. Northeastern State

Sept. 25 — at Lindenwood

Oct. 4 — vs. Pittsburg State

Oct. 11 — at Fort Hays State

Oct. 18 — at Washburn

Oct. 25 — vs. Emporia State

Nov. 1 — at Northwest Missouri

Nov. 8 — vs. Nebraska-Kearney

Nov. 15 — at Missouri Southern